Characters: OFC, OC, Estel, Elves
Source: Pre-Ring War
Disclaimer: Tolkien's world, Tolkien's general direction, and some extrapolation.
She left after midnight on horseback; feeling no guilt for stealing her younger brother’s gelding. She regarded it as an early Bride’s Price – cheap considering her father wouldn’t be paying gold to the baker… as they’d be no wedding.
She headed south, towards Rohan; they had horses and therefore leatherwork for repair; she was good at that and hoped to keep herself. Maybe she’d return to Ered Luin , but not before the baker had a wife, and she was of age and could make her own choices. She’d travelled in the Wild with her father… she could do this!
She arrived in Bree on foot, her horse had bruised its hoof and they both needed rest. The Prancing Pony was the largest inn; big stables meant she could trade mended leather for food. The stable-lad was suspicious, a young woman of Ranger stock, by her gear, alone after dark. She offered to repair a bridle for free, a sample that if he approved, would give her stabling for the night.
The exchange seemed simple enough to Hob; she looked travel-worn and grubby, but then most Rangers had that wild, unkempt look about them. He nodded agreement to her proposal.
She’d been there a week; earning small silver for repairing travellers’ leather, and food as kitchen-helper. As strong as a lad, she helped move barrels from cellar to bar, but mostly she kept to the stables, crooning softly to her horse in words unfamiliar to Hob’s ears.
She told Hob her father traded from the northern coast to East of the Mountains. He’d cut her hair short like a boy, taking her along as he’d no older son. They travelled far by wagon; she’d learnt leatherwork and the language of… She changed the subject, but Hob knew… she’d met Elves!
He wanted to hear more. She agreed… for some of the good cake Cook kept for guests. Hob could be very quiet; it would have cost him a scolding and a clip round the ear, but he purloined some cake… enough for two.
After supper they settled in the hay to share the wedge of cake; she told him of travelling by river. How the bearded Northmen of the coastal mountains rowed up-river in shallow boats with high, dragon-headed prows. How her father traded fine knives and metalwork from the Woodland Realm for furs, whales’ teeth, bright crystals and amber.
She told him how once she’d fallen ill in winter and her father agreed they must go to the coast, to the Healers. She’d had a fever and found it difficult to breathe. She admitted she couldn’t remember much, but they’d told her afterwards how sick she was, and how they’d had to trek across the frozen bay because the boat couldn’t break the ice.
The Northmen had taken turns to carry her on their shoulders, trussed up like a pack. At night they’d boiled water and pine needles, holding her face in the steam; she could remember the scent.
She recalled the Healers; they’d long, silver hair and grave, old-young faces; how their soft grey robes made barely a sound, nor their soft booted feet on the scrubbed wooden floors.
She was told, she said, they gave her medication to clear the sickness from her lungs, then something that made her sleep… and how there were pine-oil lamps near her bed to ease her breathing.
“Were they…?” whispered Hob.
“I got better. They carried me outside; the weather had warmed and the boat was there to sail us along the coast, back up the river, and home.
The next day Hob wanted to hear more of her tales, but the cellarman wanted help cleaning the smaller, tap barrels from the bar; only when they were scrubbed would they be able to find time to talk, maybe while waiting for the barrels to dry off before the freshly brewed ale was tipped in.
The work was messy and wet, soon she was soaked through and smelling of stale beer. The Inn had a bath-house – it was a luxury, but a few hard-earned silver pennies bought a wide barrel of hot, lavender scented water and a chance to relax.
She was pouring pitchers of water over her hair when she heard the softly whispered conversation through the thin wall that separated her from the men’s bathroom next-door. She held still, recognising the language though the accent was different… what were they doing here?
She heard enough to know they travelled north on a mission… then other men’s voices intruded and the mystery travellers fell silent.
She was curious. As she dried herself, putting on her spare clothes, she wondered if she could perhaps borrow a jug and get near their table at supper, to serve them and listen further.
She hovered between kitchen and bar; carrying plates, collecting used dishes. Then she saw them, taking seats in the far corner, a sad-eyed, dark-haired young man and two heavily hooded companions; disguised to the many, but she knew from their gear they were Elves. But why here… escorting a man called Estel.
Butterbur called her over:
“’Ere. They want this flask fillin’ with best brandy. Mind you don’t spill any, then gives it back to the gen’men.”
She took the flask - finely crafted silver encased in embossed leather. This proved who they were, and by the crest… of what house.
She’d planned to leave tonight. Her horse was rested; she’d earned some silver, purloined dried foodstuffs from the kitchen and horse blankets from the barn. It was autumn, becoming colder. She’d an envious eye on the fine, white coat behind the parlour door. Hers was old, ripped; she had far to go… if she left one of her gold bangles, then it wouldn’t be stealing…
She took the filled flask over, placing it on the table; the three fell silent.
“Shall I take your cups, gentlemen?”
She gathered the cups, and as she went out, whipped the coat down.
The young man saw her. They’re eyes met, but he watched in silence. She nodded and sped away with her prize.
In the stables, Hob was busy. She rolled the coat inside the horse blanket, tying it behind her saddle - then heard soft footsteps, spun around.
“I came to see my horse,” the young man said.
She nodded. Estel approached the fine gelding, stroked its ears, whispering the sibilant tongue of the Eldar.
She continued packing.
Suddenly, he stood beside her “This might be useful,” he said proffering an earthenware bottle of brandy, “it’s good to have on a journey,”
She looked at the pot-bottle, looked up into his face.
“I know a fugitive when I see one,” he said, “Do you travel far?”
She took the brandy, “Rohan. And you?”
“I join the Rangers.”
“At least that’s your choice.”
He raised an eyebrow, “And Rohan isn’t yours?”
She shrugged. He nudged her saddlebag with his foot, “Northmen?”
She squared up to him, “We Ranger-born know when to keep quiet.”
He bowed, “As do I.”
She nodded, “Farewell, Hope. Safe journey.”
“Farewell… what do I call you?”
“Call me friend.”
“Then farewell... Melleth. Perhaps we’ll meet again.”
“Perhaps, Estel... perhaps.”